Children’s learning and welfare top priority As schools reopen, it is critical to provide stronger support to teachers and students

Laylee Moshiri, Alex Gasasira and Hubert Gijzen
One of the key objectives includes support to learners, teachers, and school communities to prevent the transmission and spread of Covid-19 and to facilitate safe return to school as schools start re-opening.

This is seen through sustained planning and investment such as the development of Standard Operating Procedures and new monitoring systems with data from schools to foster quicker and more insightful decision making.

Additionally, efforts are being made through rigorous planning and the roll out of personal protective equipment including hygiene kits and reusable masks for teachers, and rehabilitation of water sources in schools.

The strategy also aims at ensuring continuity of quality learning and the well-being of learners, teachers, and school communities during the emergency.

This is evident in the delivery of 180 000 early childhood development (ECD) books for home learning and development of over 500 primary level radio lessons — broadcast daily throughout the country, as well as a teacher’s resource platform and plan to provide capacity building programmes on distance learning for teachers.

The justification for school re-opening is echoed in the recently issued “Considerations for school-related public health measures in the context of Covid-19’’, published by WHO, UNICEF and UNESCO which is intended to help policy makers and educators with making decisions on running schools as safely as possible during the Covid-19 pandemic, guided by a risk-based approach.

This guidance emphasizes that at the forefront of all considerations and decisions should be the continuity of education for children for their overall well-being, health and safety and maintains that the shutting down of educational facilities should only be considered when there are no other alternatives.

This global health crisis further underscores that teachers are the backbone of every education system and are in actual fact frontline workers.

Teachers and school leaders were forced to adapt quickly, and often without preparation, to remote learning modalities. Despite the challenges, the crisis allowed for creativity and innovation in teaching and learning that must be capitalized upon and sustained.

As schools reopen, it will be critical to provide stronger support to teachers, including through continuing professional development, in particular in the area of information and communications technology (ICT) to place more attention on their social and emotional well-being, and ensure social dialogue to protect their rights and ensure they are actively engaged in shaping the educational recovery.

As we move into this new normal of Covid-19, we urge leaders, communities, parents, and teachers to employ the same agility and urgency to safely reopen schools as has been used to open up other parts of society and the economy. Ongoing efforts to minimize the risk of Covid-19 transmission within schools, school associated settings and the wider community are commendable and should be sustained.

The long-term impact of extending the school lockdown risks ever greater harm to children, their future and their communities. Let’s all reimagine learning so that every child gains the skills they need to reach their full potential.

Laylee Moshiri is the Representative, UNICEF Zimbabwe

Alex Gasasira is the Representative, WHO Zimbabwe

Hubert Gijzen is Southern Africa Regional Director and Representative, UNESCO

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